Deep in the notorious downtown Joburg lies a piece of exceptional living history. It is yet another example of how South Africa has turned its terrible past into something positive, with sensitivity and outmost respect for those that gave their lives for the struggle.
Constitution Hill was once home to the Old Fort Prison Complex where countless political prisoners were jailed, often without proper trials. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were all detained here at some point during the apartheid era.
Large parts of the jail have been preserved, and turned into a museum. Very little has been changed, so visitors get a very real feeling of what it was like to be an inmate in the notorious block 4. However, other parts of the prison complex have been turned into a beacon of hope and one of the proudest places for South Africa’s young democracy; the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court is South Africa’s highest court, and a guardian of the basic human rights and freedom that so many of the Old Fort Prison’s inmates fought for. It is built where the awaiting trial block was formerly located, and bricks from this building have been incorporated into the new structure as a reminder of the past.
Constitution Hill manages to bring out a wide spectrum of feelings in its visitors, from dread and disgust at the apartheid system that allowed people to be treated like animals simply because of the colour of their skin, to immense hope for the future through the new structures that have been put on top of the old.
From the fort walls, one has an amazing 360 view over downtown Johannesburg. It is a stark reminder that although South Africa is on the right way, there is still a long way to go…